A Recent Symposium on “Love”

ATHENS, HELLAS – Greeks (I forget myself – “Hellenes”), all y’all need to get your head out of the collective wine-bowl. On second thought, don’t – that would actually make the problem worse. The problem is, Hellas, you’ve forgotten how to drink.

What happened? It wasn’t so long ago that your faithful correspondent was able to spend a pleasant afternoon (and night… and two more… of each… for research!) out on the hills with the Bacchantes and wake up, pleasantly assured by every other blushing face in the ditch that he had a fan-tastic time. The good ol’ boys of Iconium will tell you that a good ol’ time debauch of wine, song, wine, raw meat, wine, and wine is a noble tradition, worthy of all honour and veneration! (The ditch-crawl afterwards, I am told, is a more recent innovation.)

But what has happened to the drinking-party in our days? Instead of harpies shrieking in your ear while you perform the Spartan ice-bucket challenge (another venerable tradition, I am told), now we have the Symposium – and what a pale imitation of the real thing!

Your longsuffering correspondent recently attended one of these interminable bores at Agathon’s place in Athens. (For research!) Unfortunately, there was a doctor there – one Eryximachus by name. As my faithful readers know by now, never invite a doctor to drink, because he’ll always tell you that you’ll wake up in the ditch (little knowing this recent fashion is doomed to go the way of the cargo-chiton). After being served his one, singular, tiny, Eryximachus-approved cup (a pox on thy sanitarium!), your correspondent feared not even Apollo could bring the evening back from the brink. (One is tempted to believe that the good doctor simply prefers to keep his name pronounceable over the course of an evening.)

But I was pleasantly surprised when some enterprising fellow put “Love” into the conversational punch-bowl. Once this libation began to flow, and Aristophanes had woven a tale of eight-limbed men with two faces and two sets of privates (horrors!) whom Zeus cut down the middle like worms (for research!), Socrates told this truthy story from the mouth of a wise old woman (which, as my readers know, means “drunk”):

On the day of Aphrodite’s birth the gods were making merry, and among them was Resource, the son of Craft. And when they had supped, Need came begging at the door because there was good cheer inside. Now it happened that Resource, having drunk deeply of the heavenly nectar – for this was before the days of wine [horrors!] – wandered out into the garden of Zeus and sank into a heavy sleep, and Need, thinking that to get a child by Resource would mitigate her penury, lay down beside him and in time was brought to bed of Love. So Love became the follower and servant of Aphrodite because he was begotten on the same day that she was born, and further, he was born to love the beautiful since Aphrodite is beautiful herself.

Then again, as the son of Resource and Need, it has been his fate to be always needy[.]

As your longsuffering correspondent can tell from his research in the habits of the Bacchante, “this is most certainly true.” (Dear Allecto, if you read this, may I have my chariot back soon? Walking everywhere is thirsty work!)

So while we may have forgotten how to drink in the old ways, having tasted of both, I think that the new wine has promise. A Hellene (or are we Greeks now?) could do worse! (He might, for example, become a doctor.)

In Servitute Vino Perpetua,

Dionysus Bibulus

Bibulus has what one might call a jaundiced view of what love is. Plato’s Symposium stands as one of the most enduring treatments of love from the ancient world. Yet the bizarre pictures and high-flying discourses on Love do not begin to approach the Scriptural view. The reader is encouraged to take up Plato’s Symposium for himself, to refresh his memory or for the very first time, and read it over with the following questions:

  • How does St. Paul’s description of love in I Cor. 13, or St. John’s statement that God is love (I Jn. 4:8) compare to the various views of Plato’s speakers?
  • In what ways can Scripture be a corrective to the wrong views that are presented over the course of the dialogue?
  • How can the legitimate lessons of Plato’s Symposium be taught to young minds while still keeping a bulwark against the false views?

Image: “Das Gastmahl des Platon” by Anselm Feuerbach (1874)

Symposium translation by Michael Joyce (1935)

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